To my delight, I’m getting the chance to relive some of the Conan graphic tales of the 80’s – a time when the Cimmerian was less concerned with where his next meal was coming from and more interested in taking his shtick on the road in search of treasure. I’ll try to post something on each of these tales once I’ve read them if for no better reason than to share with you my utmost glee in seeing the barbarian’s unique form of justice delivered upon whatever land he visits.
First up: “Call of the Howling Shadows” from June, 1989.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Our tale opens with our fabled Cimmerian hearing the whispers of a lonely ghost through the darkness. Pulling himself from bed he shares with two slumbering maidens, Conan finds himself face-to-face with the apparition of an even more tempting female – Shameel, whom he last saw when he left her in the Valley of Howling Shadows. It would seem that she now requires rescue; and, unless the barbarian agrees to come to her rescue, she vows to haunt his every night for his rest of days. Begrudgingly, he agrees, and she instructs him to seek out the Wizard of Carnolla in the Shamar Mountains for guidance.
As fate would have it, the Cimmerian is actually being manipulated the evil Master Zalix as the wizard needs a warrior’s cunning to help him recover a magical crystal that’s fallen into dark hands. Zalix is using every spell he can conjure – including something resembling voodoo dolls – in order to accomplish his every wish, but his magic will not work against the myriad of foes they’ll encounter on their trip into the fabled valley.
Shortly, Conan arrives, and he leads Zalix along with another thief he’s conscripted (Batu) on their quest. En route, the trio encounter one treacherous beast after another, a laundry-line complete with severed hands and feet, and some half-man-half-dog soldiers who’ve reduced men to slaves. Eventually, they reach the ancient temple – the resting place of Hanuman, an even darker wizard – and make their way into its hallowed halls.
Inside, Conan and his companions find a civilization of insect creatures have captured and reduced the local people to servants, all of them living a life of servitude to a bloated human creature which gives birth to larvae that grow into more of the insect species. It isn’t long before Conan hears the cries of Shameel and responds, hacking his way through a tribe of bugs depositing their eggs in her fresh body. He rescues her, leading her to confess that she’s had nothing to do in crying out to him in the spirit world; thus Conan learns he has been duped by the wizard to do his bidding. At this point, the Cimmerian confronts Zalix, who promises that if the barbarian can take him to the crystal then he will have the magic he needs to transport all of them away from this dark place.
Needless to say, it doesn’t go quite the way anyone plans!
In “Call of the Howling Shadows,” Conan is the consummate adventurer. He’s wiling away his days enjoying the spoils of his lesser victories when a greater challenge presents itself. Of course, he’ll respond, but in the process he’ll find himself accomplishing one challenge after the next in order to clear a path to a place which promises the prospect of not so much love as it is the removal of what he perceives to be a curse. It’s a grand tale told at a swift pace, and it delivers the kind of fanciful finish one comes to expect from a tale told as only a barbarian could.
THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN (#161) was originally published in June, 1989 by Marvel Comics; for those looking for a more recent version, one can be found as part of Dark Horse Comics stellar reprints, THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN – VOLUME 16. The story is written by Charles Dixon; the pencils are by Gary Kwapisz; the inks are by Mark Pacella; the lettering is by Diana Albers; with a cover done by Ovi.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. In most respects, I firmly believe the folks who are going to seriously be jazzed by reliving THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN (#161) are those who experienced it in its original run and now – much older – get the chance to relive a piece of reading from the younger days. Me? With as much as a fan I am of Conan’s wandering tales, this one worked just fine for me.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN THE BARBARIAN (#161) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.
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